TSA makes move to cut wait times at MSP

Lines at north security checkpoint
Long waits at security checkpoints have become the new normal at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where officials say the ranks of screeners has fallen while the number of travelers is rising.
Leila Navidi | Star Tribune via AP

The Transportation Security Administration is stepping up overtime, wrapping up new training and adding an additional bomb sniffing dog at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to cut wait times at security checkpoints.

That's what officials told the Metropolitan Airports Commission Monday, as they tried to figure out how to speed up lagging passenger checks as the peak spring break travel season approaches.

The TSA is certifying an additional K9 team.
TSA officials say they are certifying an additional K-9 team this week to help pre-screen passengers.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

A passenger volume increase in the last few weeks, coupled with enhanced security measures at screening checkpoints, is causing chaos at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport's Terminal 1 checkpoints.

Transportation Security Administration officials, who addressed the Metropolitan Airports Commission, said the TSA staff have been approved for overtime work during the busy spring break season.

The Metropolitan Airports Commission said they have been getting angry phone calls and emails about the long wait times and delays at the airport.

Cliff Van Leuven and Dave McMahon
The TSA's federal security director for Minnesota, Cliff Van Leuven, and his deputy, Dave McMahon, spoke to the Metropolitan Airports Commission about wait times at the TSA's checkpoints at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

"We are not deaf to what the public is saying. It weights very heavily on us," said Cliff Van Leuven, federal security director for the TSA.

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Leuven said they are concerned by new threats caused by terrorist groups overseas, especially the incident in Somalia where a bomb hidden in a laptop exploded on a passenger plane last month.

Commission officials said TSA administrator Peter Neffenger will visit Minneapolis in the next coming weeks to observe the changes.

The delays come as Minnesota heads into its peak spring break travel season, when the typical 30,000 people who typically go through the security checkpoint can grow to 45,000. TSA officials are still recommending that travelers arrive two hours early, even for domestic flights.

The long delays for travelers follow a $17 million remodeling project at the terminal — one that has consolidated a half dozen checkpoints scattered through the ticket lobby to two giant screening points at either end of the terminal.

At least one Metropolitan Airport Commission official has called the delays "appalling." In a letter to the TSA last week, airport CEO Jeff Hamiel told the agency that "increasing passenger levels and declining numbers of federal screeners are a recipe for unacceptable customer service. We have reached that point at MSP."

People have reported standing in line for more than an hour since the new checkpoints opened Feb. 16.

That said, the lines were actually short at the airport Monday.

Short lines this morning at MSP checkpoints.
Travelers head for the new North Security Checkpoint in Terminal 1 at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Monday morning.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

"Today is the first day since we opened the checkpoint that all of the lanes have been staffed," said MAC spokesman Patrick Hogan. The TSA had told officials that they were using overtime to fully staff the checkpoints, and the lines were moving relatively quickly this morning.

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar on Sunday said Congress had adequately funded the TSA, but that the agency wasn't responding by increasing staffing to keep up with increase passenger traffic.